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Industries & Professions /
Silverware Artisans and Workers
Silverware manufacturing requires contributions from many different types of artisans and production workers. The process begins with flatware designers, who, after considering current market trends and the products offered by competitors, make sketches or computerized three-dimensional models of styles and patterns for new lines of tableware.
Once management approves proposed designs, they are given to model makers, who create handmade, full-size models of all pieces in the line, sculpting or carving them in plastic, clay, or plaster. Based on these models, the designs are often altered. Then model makers prepare models of the final version of the tableware designs, which serve as patterns for the molds and dies that will be used in producing the actual silverware.
Die makers construct dies, which are tools that can stamp, shape, or cut metal. These dies are used to create forks, spoons, knives, and other utensils out of flat sheets of stainless steel, sterling silver, nickel silver, brass, or other metal. Flatware press operators feed the sheets into presses that cut the metal into flat blanks roughly the same size and shape as the finished utensils. The blanks are then put into a drop press, which shapes each blank into the desired piece. Next, flatware makers, or annealers, heat (or anneal) the metal, softening it to help reduce the possibility of warping. Annealed flatware is then immersed in a chemical solution to cool and clean it.
Once all pieces have been thoroughly cleaned, trimmers use bench grinding machines or hand files to remove any undesirable irregularities on the surface and to round off edges in accordance with the design. Finally, the flatware is buffed and polished to a smooth finish by finishing machine operators or polishing machine operators.
While the process just described is used for most flatware, some pieces require the skills of additional specialists as well. The handles of many kinds of knives, for example, are stamped out as two separate halves that are joined together by solderers or hollow handle bench workers. The handles can be left hollow or filled so that the knife has more weight. Knife assemblers then cement the knife blades into the handles. They check the finished pieces for alignment and clean any excess cement from the blade using a metal pick and brush. Inspected knives are placed in a rack to dry, while those that are rejected are set aside on a separate tray.
The manufacturing process for hollowware items such as teapots, trays, and sugar bowls also calls for specialized workers because these pieces can be quite ornate. Most hollowware is made of a base metal, such as brass. The brass comes in rolled sheets, which workers cut into usable sections. Press operators mold the brass sheeting into the desired shapes using large presses. Then profile-saw operators and profile trimmers trim away excess metal from the edges. Other parts of hollowware vessels, such as handles, legs, and border trim, are made separately and attached by silverware assemblers using screws, bolts, pins, or adhesives. These parts may be cast in molds using molten Britannia metal, an alloy similar to pewter. Objects like goblets and candlesticks are stretched and shaped by spinners who use hand tools and bench-lathes.
Silversmiths and hammersmiths also create hollowware. Silversmiths are skilled craftworkers who perform many kinds of tasks related to the fabrication of fine hollowware, such as annealing metal, shaping it with various tools, adding embossed designs, and soldering parts. In addition, they repair damaged pieces using hammers, tongs, pliers, dollies, anvils, tracing punches, and other tools. Hammersmiths also repair hollowware using many of the same tools. Both silversmiths and hammersmiths work with not only silver but also a variety of other metals, including pewter, chromium, nickel, and brass.
A final step often used in manufacturing flatware and hollowware is electroplating, a process that uses electric current to coat a metal with one or more thin layers of another metal. Using the electroplating process, workers coat articles made of an inexpensive metal with a precious metal, such as gold, silver, or platinum.
Platers, or electroplaters, first clean unplated articles in vats of cleaning solutions. They may initially coat the items with nickel or copper, either of which allows the plating metal to attach to the base metal. Then electroplaters suspend an unplated item and a piece of the plating metal in a tank containing a chemical solution. When they run electricity through the apparatus, plating metal is deposited on the piece, creating an item that looks as attractive as one made entirely of the precious metal. At the end of the process, platers check the finished objects for thickness using such instruments as calipers and micrometers. Platers are also responsible for marking, measuring, and covering any areas that have failed to be plated.